Wesley Tate figures the shortest route to the field is short-yardage situations.
The younger brother of former Notre Dame All-American Golden Tate was one of three highly regarded freshmen running backs for Vanderbilt last season. The other two -- Warren Norman and Zac Stacy -- combined for 1,261 rushing yards, and Norman was named the SEC Freshman of the Year.
Tate stayed on the sideline and eventually was redshirted.
This season, he joins those other two as well as senior Kennard Reeves to give the Commodores one of the deepest and well-rounded position groups on the roster. Now he has to find a role.
“I’m bigger, those guys are quick and fast,” he said. “I’m quick and fast also but I have size. Third-and-1 and we’re on the goal line, I feel like I have 15-20 pounds on those guys.”
Part of what distinguishes Tate is his size and running style. The smaller Norman (5-foot-10, 198 pounds) and Stacy (5-9, 205) are quick, elusive backs. At 6-2, 220, Tate offers a bruising change of pace to his counterparts when he lines up behind the quarterback.
Running backs coach Des Kitchings said mixing a power back with the contrasting rushing styles of more nimble backs confuses and wears down the defense.
“It helps a lot because in a perfect world I’d like to have those guys all fresh and rotating,” he said. “[With Tate] we can continue to put pressure on the defense and wear them down in the forth quarter.”
During 11-on-11 drills during the first weekend of workouts for the 2010 season, Tate’s physical presence was on display for around 200 fans who came to Sunday’s open practice. The team was in shoulder-pads for the first time and players were flirting with their return to hitting and maximum intensity. On one snap, Tate hit a hole up the middle and was met by a defensive back in the secondary.
Kitchings described the pop that followed: “He just leveled a safety.”
Plowing down a defender is a great way to hype up one’s offensive teammates but Tate just views it as part of his game. Kitchings also noted that Tate has greatly improved his catching and the way he gets downfield after he catches a pass.
In addition to watching all of the games in 2009, Tate sat out spring practices with a foot injury. Kitchings says that the time out affected his timing within the Vanderbilt system—something they are correcting now. However, both coach and player feel the injury helped Tate in tightening his mental focus.
“That slowed me down [physically] but mentally I think it helped me a lot because the only thing I could do was focus on practice,” Tate said. “Now, endurance is definitely something I need to work on. That’s been my thing this summer, getting in the best shape I can and staying a good weight for my size.”
Kitchings is confident in the way Tate’s has been knocking the rust off from missing repetitions this spring.
“The more reps he gets, the better his timing is going to be in our offense,” Kitchings said. “There’s plenty of room (for all four backs) with me. All four of our guys are extremely talented and they are out here every day pushing each other. With the grind and the physicality of this league I think you need to have four SEC caliber tailbacks.”
• Two defensive coaches were absent from Sunday’s practice in order to mourn the death of a family member. Defensive Tackles coach Rick Logo left to be with family grieving the death of his mother. Defensive Ends coach Mike Pelton attended his grandmother’s funeral.
Head coach Robbie Caldwell and senior co-captain Adam Smotherman led position drills for the defensive line on Sunday.
• Caldwell said there is not a definite No. 1 quarterback yet, but junior Larry Smith is viewed ahead of the pack due to experience. Caldwell said he is willing to play more than one during the season or “whatever it takes to get the job done.”
• Freshmen receivers Chris Boyd, Jonathon Krause, and Jordan Matthews all had big catches for the third practice in a row. Caldwell reiterated that he expects the trio to contribute immediately on the field.